As we hunker down for another week of social distance and eating dry cereal straight out of the box, many of us have one crucial thing to be thankful for: High-speed internet. We live with an abundance of things to watch and music to listen to–an entire electronic universe. This blessing spares us from the rigors of, you know, going out into the sunshine or washing an occasional load of underwear. I mean, you can wear swimming trunks for days on end and there are entire seasons of Flavor of Love online, so….what a time to be alive, amirite?
That being said, I hope y’all are avoiding every kind of sickness out there. Now, let’s take a look at some good shows to watch:
It may only be a distant cousin to the Coen brothers masterpiece, but Fargo matches its cinematic namesake in eccentric brilliance. Each season plays out like a semi-contained short story, with all of them eventually squeezed into one sprawling novel. Like the movie, show-runner Noah Hawley loves to put nebbish, mannered suburbanites into a swimming pool of neo-noir drama and slowly drown them in it. Season 1 will hook you right away, as Martin Freeman plays a dweeby businessman who tangles with a mysterious psychotic (Billy Bob Thornton). Thornton conveys unhinged menace so effectively, he makes the killer from No Country for Old Men look like Bob Ross in comparison. The upcoming Season 4 has been delayed due to the pandemic, but it promises to be killer as well: Set in the 50s, Chris Rock will play a beleaguered mob boss. I can’t wait.
The West Wing (1999-2007)
Y’all remember a time when our government was peopled by dedicated servants who could set aside partisan squabbling to get good things done? Yeah, I really don’t either. But Aaron Sorkin’s The West Wing will serve you with a tantalizing taste of life with leaders who govern with intelligent idealism. President Jed Bartlet (Martin Sheen) and his redoubtable lieutenants navigate six seasons of a health crisis, crippling gridlock, and the looming threat of terrorism. That might sound too much like C-Span, but Wing will draw you in with its crackling dialogue and storylines that lean more on humanity than government minutiae. Oh, and the performances are frigging phenomenal: Allison Janney gets some delectable monologues as impassioned Press Secretary C.J. Cregg. John Spencer adds a little salt to the cast as a crusty-but-benevolent Chief of Staff. Let’s not forget Sheen, whose performance as the grief-stricken president during “Two Cathedrals” is just about the best acting you’ll see anywhere.
American Crime Story: The Assassination of Gianni Versace (2018)
The O.J. season was okay–we’ll thank Sarah Paulson for her hard work–but this second helping absolutely knocks it out of the park. Like Fargo, each season of Crime Story picks an insulated narrative and gives it sole focus. This time, we get the bonkers story behind Gianni Versace’s killing, by way of an off-kilter Andrew Cunanan (Darren Criss). The show uses the novel approach of starting with the murder and working its way backward with each episode. Along the journey, we see the true devastation wrought by Cunanan’s sociopathic hurricane. It’s tragic, twisted, and completely compelling. I’ll plant a flag on this hill and die on it: Criss plays the creepiest killer this side of Hannibal Lecter. He’s that goddamn good. The supporting cast, including Penélope Cruz, Ricky Martin–yes, he’s still viviendo la vida loca–and Édgar Ramirez as Versace all turn in great work. But, again, Darren Criss. Give him two Emmys.
With David Tennant and Olivia Colman, Broadchurch probably has more acting talent than the world deserves in one series, but here we are. In Broadchurch, a sleepy, seaside British town, a little boy turns up dead on the beach. The local PD calls the big city and subs in a relentless, prickly detective (Tennant) to help track down the killer. He gets paired with a local cop (Colman), who turns out to be way more formidable than he thought. Shows like this are gonna have sharp turns in plot. That’s a given. It’s a nice surprise in Broadchurch when they don’t, well, suck donkey doo. All three seasons are so killer, you’ll be sad they never made a fourth.
Few shows will drive you as all-out crazy as Lost. Take The Twilight Zone, add a dash of Robinson Crusoe, and maybe even a little Gilligan’s Island. You get the idea. Oceanic Flight 815 goes kablooey somewhere over the Pacific, leaving a disparate platoon of survivors marooned on a mysterious island. Turns out, said island is a hotbed of strange phenomena, including a murderous smoke monster, electro-magnetism, and random polar bears. Lost throws quite a few curve balls at you–probably more than just about any show on this list. Some of these story shenanigans are brilliant, while others are just plain wacky. Either way, I won’t spoil them for you. Like any rollercoaster, part of the fun is just throwing your hands up and enjoying the ride.
Parks and Recreation (2009-2015)
I can’t think of any show I adore more than Parks and Rec. It’s like the sharp satire of The Office somehow melded with the unbridled optimism of Frank Capra’s Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. Put another way: Imagine The West Wing transplanted to an endearingly strange little town in Indiana. Leslie Knope makes for one of the most irresistible protagonists in all of TV comedy. And she’s not even the funniest character in the lineup. That honor goes to her belligerently libertarian boss, Ron Swanson (Nick Offerman). Knope and Swanson form a Lennon/McCartney dynamic that’s hilarious and occasionally touching. Also of note: Chris Pratt as the shoe-shining, frat-tastic songbird Andy Dwyer. Really, though, this entire show is 5000 candles in the wind.
Fawlty Towers (1975-1979)
It ran for just two seasons, but Fawlty Towers influenced situation comedies for decades to come. For proof, just take a look at the farcical episodes of Frasier or Kramer’s pratfalls on Seinfeld, and you’ll easily recognize John Cleese’s Python-fueled insanity. Cleese plays Basil Fawlty, a clueless bourgeois twit who runs a Torque hotel with his sauced-up wife, Sybil (Prunella Scales). Just about every episode revolves around Basil scheming to add class to his establishment, and just about every time his plans unravel all around him. You couldn’t build a more perfect cast out of a kit: Cleese’s then-wife Connie Booth co-writes and plays Polly Sherman, the hotel’s jack-of-all-trades. As the only rational island in a sea of hare-brained lunacy, Polly often plays it straight to the daffy characters around her. Andrew Sachs damn near steals the entire show as a gloriously buffoonish waiter from Barcelona. Best of all: The acidic bantering between the Fawltys is absolute gold. Check out the episode “Basil the Rat,” which might be the funniest 30 minutes of TV ever made.
If Siegfried and Roy ever hired Jerry Springer to revamp their Vegas act, it might look a lot like Tiger King: Lions, tigers, meth, and murder–oh my! This is one of those cracked-out stories that could only happen in real life. Somewhere in the Oklahoma backwoods, a redneck nutball named Joe Exotic, bedecked with a mullet and flamboyant outfits, runs some kinda petting zoo for big cats. He spews vitriolic gibberish at an ever-present film crew and shoots bizarre country music videos that have to be seen to be believed. And he runs for governor. And he may or may not have tried to kill a rival tiger-hoarder…….who may or may not have killed her own husband and fed him to her tigers. Each episode gathers weirdness like a tumbling snowball. When your mom said TV will rot your brain, shit like this is what she meant. Still, I’ll happily admit it: I couldn’t stop watching for a second.
If you missed the first part of this list, be sure and head back this way: